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Ukrainian Soldiers In Russia On Hunger Strike

The commander of the Ukrainian troops who crossed into Russia says several of them have gone on a hunger strike to protest their situation.

Andriy Hryshchenko, the commander of the Ukrainian Army's 72nd Mechanized Brigrade, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service announced on August 6 that the hunger strike was announced at a camp provided for the soldiers by Russian officials near the Gukovo border crossing.

It is unclear how many soldiers are on the hunger strike.

ITAR-TASS reported on August 6 that 192 of the Ukrainian soldiers returned to Ukraine over the Veselo-Voznesenka border crossing.

That move was announced by Vasily Malayev, a spokesman for Russia's regional border guard department.

That would be in addition to about 180 Ukrainian soldiers who reportedly returned through the Matveyev Kurgan border crossing on August 4 -- the same day that the some 438 Ukrainian troops and border guards reportedly crossed into Russia from Ukraine after being besieged by the pro-Russian separatists that they had been fighting.

Some reports said the Ukrainian soldiers had run out of ammunition during the fighting, others said they had been forced into Russia after being cornered by artillery fighting coming from Russian territory.

The soldiers have dismissed Russian media reports that they were defecting to Russia or that they wanted to leave Ukraine.

Several of them said during interviews that they want to return to Ukraine, as apparently many have.

If the reports about the soldier returns to Ukraine are accurate, there are still some 65-70 Ukrainian soldiers in Russia.

Hryshchenko said that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has tried to recruit the Ukrainian soldiers and border guards.

He added that he has mixed feelings about the move of his soldiers into Russia.

Hryshchenko said they have been "fighting bravely" for two months and achieved "normal results."

"On the one hand I blame them [for coming into Russia], on the other hand I know how [hard] they have been fighting," he said.

Hryshchenko blamed some of his brigade commanders for adopting the decision to go into Russia, a move that he said was "criminal."

Meanwhile, Donetsk city authorities said three people were killed and five injured in overnight shelling as government forces continued an offensive on the pro-Russian rebel stronghold.

The Donetsk City Council said in a statement on its website on August 7 that several residential buildings had been damaged in a neighborhood about seven kilometers from the city's central square.

An AFP journalist reported that heavy shelling could be heard again mid-morning on August 7 from central Donetsk.

With reporting by ITAR-TASS
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